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Geographic, seasonal and precipitation chemistry influence on the abundance and activity of biological ice nucleators in rain and snow

  • Christner, Brent C.
  • Cai, Rongman
  • Morris, Cindy E.
  • McCarter, Kevin S.
  • Foreman, Christine M.
  • Skidmore, Mark L.
  • Montross, Scott N.
  • Sands, David C.
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2008
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Biological ice nucleators (IN) function as catalysts for freezing at relatively warm temperatures (warmer than −10 °C). We examined the concentration (per volume of liquid) and nature of IN in precipitation collected from Montana and Louisiana, the Alps and Pyrenees (France), Ross Island (Antarctica), and Yukon (Canada). The temperature of detectable ice-nucleating activity for more than half of the samples was ≥ −5 °C based on immersion freezing testing. Digestion of the samples with lysozyme (i.e., to hydrolyze bacterial cell walls) led to reductions in the frequency of freezing (0–100%); heat treatment greatly reduced (95% average) or completely eliminated ice nucleation at the measured conditions in every sample. These behaviors were consistent with the activity being bacterial and/or proteinaceous in origin. Statistical analysis revealed seasonal similarities between warm-temperature ice-nucleating activities in snow samples collected over 7 months in Montana. Multiple regression was used to construct models with biogeochemical data [major ions, total organic carbon (TOC), particle, and cell concentration] that were accurate in predicting the concentration of microbial cells and biological IN in precipitation based on the concentration of TOC, Ca2+, and NH4+, or TOC, cells, Ca2+, NH4+, K+, PO43−, SO42−, Cl−, and HCO3−. Our results indicate that biological IN are ubiquitous in precipitation and that for some geographic locations the activity and concentration of these particles is related to the season and precipitation chemistry. Thus, our research suggests that biological IN are widespread in the atmosphere and may affect meteorological processes that lead to precipitation

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